Equal Pay for Women Requires Paid Time to Care

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

Ellen Bravo, executive director of Family Values @ Work Consortium

As we pause to commemorate Equal Pay Day – the day well into the year when the earnings of women working full time catch up with men’s earnings from the previous year – many people are asking why women earn so much less than men. The answer? Because women’s employers pay them so much less – including little or no time to do the caregiving for which women still have primary responsibility. That lack in compensation costs women hundreds of thousands of dollars over a lifetime.

Here’s the rub – in our nation that is supposed to value families and personal responsibility, being a good parent or following doctor’s orders affects your ability to stay employed, to advance, to build assets or even to pay your bills. Lose a job for staying home with a sick child and it may be harder to get the next one. Take a little time to care for your dying father and you may find yourself in bankruptcy court – and that can affect your credit rating and your ability to get hired at the next job. Take a few years to raise young children and your next starting pay – and all the lifetime of raises based on that pay – may take a hit from which you’ll never recover.

Conservatives argue that women would get equal pay with men if they didn’t take breaks. Having a baby may be a joy – but it’s not a break. Studies show that women who experience an interruption in employment do experience a decrease in wages – a reflection of the notion that they’ve taken a “break” and lowered their value by “not working.”

Many new moms who wind up out of a job would be delighted to go back to the one they had — but their employer prevents it. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits firing someone for being pregnant, but it does not require holding their job open until that person heals from childbirth. The Family and Medical Leave Act does include that job protection, but it leaves out 40 percent of the workforce. At the time when they need a steady income the most, too many moms risk losing their jobs when they have a child.

fvaw caregiverNow for the good news: there are tested policy solutions to correct these problems. The drop in income is less likely to happen when women have access to paid family leave. Researchers Houser and Vartanian found evidence that paid family leave boosts the chance that women will return to the workforce and receive pay increases once they do.

An analysis of the impact of California’s paid leave program on leave-taking and post-birth employment found that paid family leave increases a woman’s attachment to the firm that she works in, as well as increasing the number of hours that she works after returning to the job.

In short, common sense policies like a family leave insurance fund not only strengthen families and lower turnover, they would also help lessen the gender wage gap. Sen. Kirsten Gillebrand and Rep. Rosa DeLauro have introduced a federal bill, the FAMILY Act, to create such a fund. And President Obama has included money in the budget for a State Paid Leave Fund, grants to states to help them start similar programs on the state level.

Other public policies would help as well. Guaranteeing that workers can earn paid sick time would help stop income and job loss that impacts women’s earnings. So would proposed credits for caregiving in determining social security income.

These aren’t the only solutions. We need to restore the lost value of the minimum wage (where women are the majority of workers) and remove the barriers from workers choosing to belong to a union. We need parity for part-timers, who are also disproportionately female – no law currently requires that they get the same base rate, even when doing the same job for the same company. And we need an end to salary secrecy, as President Obama is ordering today for federal contractors.

But we’ll never solve the problem of women’s lower – and often really low – pay until we also ensure that women and men have access to affordable time for caregiving.

Why We Need the FAMILY Act

Jason’s twin children were born at 28 weeks — and as a result, spent 69 days in neonatal intensive care. Thanks to New Jersey’s paid family leave law, Jason and his wife Christie were able to take needed time off to care for their children. But for millions of workers, including one million in Washington alone, paid family leave is not an option. The FAMILY Act would change that.

Most Americans have no access to paid leave when babies are born or serious personal or family medical needs arise, but that will change when Congress passes the Family And Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. This badly needed legislation was introduced for the first time today by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D – N.Y.) and Representative Rosa DeLauro (D – Conn.). It would establish a national paid family and medical leave insurance program, bringing the country’s employment safeguards in line with the needs today’s working families.

Add your voice to the majority of Americans who support paid family and medical leave and urge Congress to pass the FAMILY Act today!

U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi Rallies Local Support for Women’s Economic Agenda

Leader Pelosi speaks at Seattle City Hall on working family policies that strengthen women's economic security.

U.S. House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene and Adam Smith joined hundreds of workers and parents for a forum on Pelosi’s economic plan: When Women Succeed, America Succeeds.

“For too long, women in Seattle and across the country have been waiting to receive the equal treatment and opportunities they deserve,” said Pelosi. “The House Democratic economic agenda for women and families knocks down barriers that prevent women from reaching their full potential at home and in the workplace.  When women receive equal pay, our economy prospers.  When women can balance their work and family life, American society thrives.  When all women succeed, America succeeds.”

It’s a bold agenda – one that recognizes the key role women play in the nation’s workforce. Nearly half of all workers are women and 40 percent of working women are the primary breadwinners in their families.

Introductory remarks from Representatives DelBene and Smith were buttressed by stories from Washington women  working to improve local and statewide policies impacting their families.

Evelin Vargas-Bogarin shared how limited access to paid leave created a family crisis when her father needed kidney surgery. Kristin Bennett discussed how her family’s inability to afford childcare forced her husband to quit his job in order to care for their three young daughters. And Makini Howell, owner of Plum Bistro, shared how smart family policies for working families benefit local businesses like her own.

“My employees are a big part of my success as a businesswoman,” stated Howell. “Commonsense workplace policies – like strong wages and paid sick leave – allow my employees, my business and my customers’ businesses to thrive.”

The Seattle-Bellevue metropolitan area has the worst gender wage-gap in the country, with women earning only 73 cents to every dollar earned by men. Yet, childcare in Washington state is the ninth-most expensive in the country, consuming 14 percent of median income for married families and over 46 percent of income for single mothers. Further, an estimated one million Washington workers, one-third of the state’s workforce, have no access to paid sick leave.  Pelosi’s plan seeks to address those  economic insecurities, faced by a growing number of Washington women and families.

Reflecting broad support for such measures, a total of twenty-nine local organizations sponsored the event, including the Washington Work and Family Coalition, MomsRising and EOI. All three are working to pass state-level policies that address the economic insecurities facing Washington women and their families.

“As much progress as we’ve made, we still have antiquated policies that assume every household has a full-time caregiver. That doesn’t match reality,” stated Marilyn Watkins, policy director at the Economic Opportunity Institute and spokesperson for the Washington Work and Family Coalition. “Together, we can pass public policies that support working families and create opportunities for upward economic mobility,” said Watkins.

Full list of sponsoring organizations:

  • American Association of University Women – Washington
  • American Association of University Women – Seattle
  • Children’s Alliance
  • Economic Opportunity Institute
  • El Centro de la Raza
  • Faith Action Network
  • Healthy Tacoma
  • King County Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • League of Women Voters of Washington
  • Legal Voice
  • MomsRising
  • Main Street Alliance
  • Seattle & King County National Association for the Advancement of Colored People
  • NARAL Pro-Choice Washington
  • National Women’s Political Caucus of Washington
  • OneAmerica
  • Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest
  • Puget Sound Advocates for Retirement Action
  • Seattle Human Services Coalition
  • Seattle Office of Civil Rights
  • SEIU 1199
  • SEIU 775NW
  • SEIU 925
  • Teamsters 117
  • Teamsters Joint Council 28
  • UFCW 367
  • Washington Bus
  • Washington State National Organization for Women
  • Washington Work and Family Coalition
  • Women’s Funding Alliance